Recalling the Jesuits in Mindanao History

[Welcome Address:  History Forum co-sponsored by ADDU and the National Historical Commission: “Philippines-Spain Connection:  the Christianization of Mindanao.”  ADDU, Ricci Hall, 9 January 2015]

Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to welcome all of you to Mindanao, and to the Ateneo de Davao University! We are especially pleased to host this gathering of distinguished historians for a forum that tackles the Philippines-Spain Connection particularly in the context of the Christianization of Mindanao. I welcome especially Dr. Bernadette Abrera, Chair of the History Department, UP Diliman; Dr. Cecil Tangyan, Chair of the History Department of Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology; Dr. Heidi Glora of the History Faculty of Ateneo de Davao University, and Ms. Queenie Palafox, representing Dr. Maris Diokno, Chair of the National Historical Commission           .

As you discuss today the vast panorama of human contact between Philippines and Spain, the Society of Jesus ends its celebration of the Bicentennial of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus. In the Philippines, the Restoration marks the new beginning 200 years ago of the systematic missionary work of the Jesuits on the island of Mindanao and their encounter with its diverse cultures.

Spanish Jesuits had first come to Mindanao in the late 16th century. In 1596, the mission of Butuan was established by two Jesuits, Fr. Valerio de Ledesma and Fr. Manuel Martinez. In Butuan, these Jesuits inaugurated the first Catholic church in Mindanao in 1597. There were Jesuit chaplains in the Rodriguez de Figueroa expedition to Maguindanao in 1595, while the missions of Zamboanga in the southwest, of Dapitan in the northwest, and Iligan in the north of Mindanao, were opened in the early 17th century.

But already in 1768 the Jesuits were expelled from the Philippines as a result of anti-Jesuit intrigues in Spain leading to the worldwide suppression by Clement XIV in 1773.  Ninety-one years later, after the restoration of the Jesuits by Pope Pius VII, the Jesuits returned to the Philippines with the mandate to work in and evangelize Mindanao. The first mission of the newly-returned Jesuits in Mindanao was in Tamontaca among the Teduray tribe in the hills, and the Muslim tribes along the riverbank of the Rio Grande de Mindanao. The Society’s missionary work in the Davao region began in June 1, 1868 with the pioneer group of Fr. Ramon Barua, Fr. Domingo Bove, Fr. Ramon Pamies, and Bro. Antonio Gairolas, a lay brother.

We are only beginning to re-discover and appreciate the extent of the Jesuits’ encounters with the cultures of Mindanao.

In the course of the celebration of the Bicentennial of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus, the AdDU, through its University Research Council, has addressed the task of finding the Mindanao mission parish stations and chapels which were once served by Jesuits.  Fr. David John de los Reyes, our resident Jesuit anthropologist, was eventually “volunteered” to dig through the primary sources and archive materials in order to identify these stations, and then lead the empirical, on-the-ground GPS-marking to allow an eventual mapping.  He has already identified 140 mission parishes and “thus far” 445 mission chapels. He concluded that all Mindanao regions and all Mindanao provinces were served by Jesuits assigned as parish priests, and all but two or three Mindanao cites.  He discovered that all Mindanao dioceses were  served by Jesuits assigned as parish priests, five of them—Zamboanga, Cagayan de Oro, Malaybalay, Kidapawan and Ipil—by Jesuits assigned as their bishop or bishop-prelate. Asked to share “something” about those visits, he noted that the mission chapels from the earlier time periods were in fact lumad settlements.  The Jesuits have been engaged in lumad missions far more than we recognize.

The Ateneo de Davao University is a continuation of the Jesuit Fathers’ missionary work in Mindanao through such works and service in education, research, and community engagement. It is firmly rooted in the faith, out of which it bases it abiding concern for the poor, its concern for the preservation of the environment, and its dialogue with diverse cultures and religions. As such, it does not operate blindly in the midst of the various social issues in Mindanao and Sulu. We are involved with the Bangsamoro as a project-in-progress; this encompasses corrections in the writing of history, in resource allocation, and the protection of indigenous peoples rights, among others.

As a new chapter of the Bangsamoro begins to unfold in the ever-evolving drama of our nationhood, the islands of Mindanao and Sulu take center stage in academic gatherings such as this. There is a growing call among academicians, social scientists most of all, to come to a deeper understanding of the Bangsamoro struggles and the different landscapes of identity and culture in Mindanao.  The call is towards new insight, transformative learning and education towards a common good. For historians, the call is to better understand the Bangsamoro struggles and aspirations, and especially the Bangsamoro’s emergence and evolution deeply rooted in what Orlando Cardinal Quevedo has called the deep “historical injustices to Moro identity, Moro Political Sovereignty, and Moro Moral Integral Development.” Academic circles such as this – the nuclei of ideation – are important spaces for realization Bangsamoro’s integration in Mindanao, one that would be a true vehicle of peace, justice, and living together in what Pope Francis refers to as  “reconciled diversity” (Evangelii Gaudium, 230).

May this venue of dialogue among notable historians seek as its object service to society, especially helping people understanding the historical antecedents of the Bangsamoro in Mindanao.  St. Ignatius’ life – and indeed the Jesuit mission’s objective here in Mindanao – was to help people and share with them in gratitude what he himself received gratuitously. Knowledge does not exist just for its own sake; it seeks to impact individuals and society positively. May the ideas and knowledge raised in this forum be not complacent, but committed to bringing the fullness of life to all peoples, especially here in Mindanao.

Thank you and good afternoon.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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